by Whispering Gums

A post in our series featuring works published in 1924 (or by authors who died in 1924). This post’s subject is a short story published in Melbourne’s The Weekly Times on 1 March 1924, by the Victorian born writer, Alice C Tomholt.

Alice C Tomholt (1887-1949) was a prolific short-story writer, and some-time poet, who was published primarily by Melbourne’s The Weekly Times from 1909 to around 1936. Prolific she might have been – indeed, I gave up listing her stories that I found via Trove – but information about her is certainly not prolific. The trusty AustLit database does list her. It tells us that she was born in Richmond Victoria in 1887 as Alice Christina Tomholt (a.k.a. Alice Tomholt; A. C. Tomholt, to which I would add Alice C. Tomholt). And that she died on 27 October 1949 in Ballarat, Victoria. This I was able to confirm via a death notice in Melbourne’s The Argus. The notice adds that she was “the youngest daughter of the late Daniel and Louisa Tomholt, of Melbourne” and that she had a sister, Minnie (Mrs Hewitt), a brother, Sydney, and was an aunt to Henry, Mary, and Edna. From this it appears that she never married.

She does not appear in Wikipedia, or the Australian dictionary of biography, or the Obit Australia database. Neither does she appear in Debra Adelaide’s Australian women writers: A bibliographic guide. All this tells me that she was likely a popular writer of light short stories (primarily), and was not published outside of the newspaper arena. I did, however, find her older brother Sydney John Tomholt (a.k.a. S.J. Tomholt) in the Australian dictionary of biography. The article was written by Nancy Keesing, and tells us that he was the eldest of three children “born to Daniel John Tomholt, a Dutch-born waiter, and his Tasmanian wife Louisa, née Whelan”. Keesing describes him as a playwright and critic, and does not mention his sisters. He moved to Sydney in 1914, and after various stints overseas, which included wartime service in France, he returned to Sydney, where he died in 1974.

As for sister Alice, the first reference I found to her was in Victoria’s Kilmore Free Press on 2 December 1909 in an article announcing the publication of the last issue for that year of the Australian Journal. It mentions “large instalments” of serials, and says that “contributions by Rita Sunyasee, Cheeri-Wee, Alice C. Tomholt, and the ever popular W.W., are calculated to be of interest for the holiday season”. The next reference I found was a story, titled “The mythical third“, published in Melbourne’s The Weekly Times on 1 January 1910, in a section they call “Our Short Stories”.

From this to the last story I found in1936, she was a frequent “Our Short Stories” contributor, These same stories would often appear a little later in Perth’s The Daily News. She also appeared at times in The Weekly Times’ annual publication. Promotion for the 1914 edition included this, “Good stories have also been contributed by Mr Randolph Bedford, Mr Edward S. Sorenson, Mr D. H. Souter, Miss Sumner Locke, Miss Gertrude Hart, Mr R. Curwen, Miss Alice Tomholt, and others”. So, she was well enough known to be named rather than one of the “others”. She also had stories, and sometimes poetry, published in The Australasian and other papers.

I have only read three of the many stories available in Trove and all were romantic in tone, but they aren’t all simple boy-meets-girl stories. In “The uses of adversity”, we meet a couple whose marriage is troubled … read on, if you are interested.

The uses of adversity

By Alice C Tomholt

Sweet are the uses of adversity;
which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.” —Shakespeare.

For months past Philip Graham’s face had worn a strained and haggard expression; and today, driving in his car from his office to his home, his mouth was set and his eyes heavy with a deep regret at having so soon to blight what little pleasure Letty might have got out of her homecoming.

It was hard on her — deucedly hard. She had become so accustomed to the luxury and easy comfort that had come to her with the growth of his success in the building and architectural world — even though that success had not brought a very brilliant happiness in its train.

Pressure of business had caused him to drift away from her a good deal; and she had at first grown wistful then rebellious at “the silly old work that had stopped all their nice times together,” and, at last, resigned, after a series of arguments and petty differences that had increased in recurrence with alarming rapidity.

She had learned gradually then to allow him to swamp himself in his business without any reproaches to impede him; and had swamped her own disappointed self in a whirl of social gaieties to which she had free access as one of the most popular young matrons of her set.

But the not quite so smart people who had known her in the early days of her marriage, when Phil was only beginning to place his feet on the ladder of success, said that her nature seemed to be spoiling; and they looked with regret at the rather too firm set of her pretty mouth, and the hard expression that so often dimmed the softness of her eyes. They did not know that this firmness and hardness was just the weapons with which Letty was learning to fight her apparently futile longing for a return of the old happy comradeship between Phil and herself.

But Graham, deep in the problems and perplexities of his business, did not have time to think much of such things. He was most generous to Letty in money matters; and he was proud of the position that she had been able to take with such ease and charm in the social world, to which his success had given her entry. For many years now she had reigned as a charming young hostess at Oakwood, the big modern home that Graham had built on one of the choicest sites in Toorak; and he had believed her to be thoroughly happy — except on those occasions when differences had arisen between them.

Then came the time when she grew strangely quiet and listless, and seemed to suddenly tire of the gaiety in which she had so long swamped herself. One of her sisters had married, and had gone with her mine manager husband to live in Queensland; and Graham had made no demur when Letty expressed a desire to go to this favorite sister for six months. It was scarcely worthwhile going such a long way for a shorter visit, she had said, and, after making arrangements for Molly Bryant, a widowed sister of his own, to take her place at Oakwood during her absence, he had let her go, honestly believing the trip would do her good.

Their frequent arguments had become rather wearing to his nerves; and, having several important building contracts on his and his partner’s hands, he had seen her off at the station with a vague feeling of relief.

But, with her going, his luck seemed to go also. Almost everything began to go against him in a persistently irritating way; and the climax was reached when his partner cleverly succeeded in absconding with nearly all the firm’s available funds, leaving Graham to face the inevitable chaos which followed.

In order to fulfil his contracts, he had to make arrangements for the sale of Oakwood and several other properties in which he had invested his money; and on this day of Letty’s homecoming from her six months’ visit, he was scarcely any higher in the financial world than he had been when he married her.

He had given her no idea of the trouble that had befallen him, and had forwarded her usual generous allowance regularly, determined that her holiday should not be spoilt, and to do all in his power to prevent the news of the disaster reaching her ears before she returned to her home.

It was with a deep relief that he had read her request that he should not bother to meet her at the station. She wrote that she quite understood how it would interfere with his work, and that she would be quite willing to await his return to Oakwood in the afternoon. Molly would meet her and that would make everything quite all right.

She had once been so foolishly sentimental about meetings and partings between them, and during the first years of their married life, that foolishness had seemed to Graham to be just part of the charm and delicacy of her extremely sensitive nature. Returning to her today after her long absence, a remembrance of her hardened eyes came up before him in striking contrast to the Letty she once had been. And a sudden isolation and regret tugged his heart. This new Letty would not take kindly to the change in their fortunes, she had grown so much like the other young matrons of her set – gay, pleasure-loving; a little cynical and blase.

Graham had this day a sudden longing for the old Letty— the Letty who used to perch – in complete happines and confidence on his knee in one of the big shabby chairs at Hollybush, their first little home; the Letty who would kiss the tip of his rather blunt nose and tell him not to worry his old black head about any trouble that happened along to depress him. What did anything matter so long as they had their great big love for one another? And he had always been able then to grin cheerfully and battle on.

Molly, knowing of the state of his affairs and the necessity for Letty’s speedy knowledge of it, had tactfully accepted a dinner invitation for that evening; so that there was only Letty to greet Graham when he ran his car into the garage and went into the house. Molly had made the big lounge into a bower of beauty with pink and mauve stocks and sweet peas out of the garden, and it was there that Graham found his wife — a wife grown subtly different to the one he had known during recent years; a wife with softened eyes and softened, slightly tremulous mouth, who came toward him a little wist fully. A low cry escaped her as he stepped out of the gloom near the doorway into the full light that fell from one of the big windows. Impulsively she took his face within her two hands — one of the old endearing ways that had frequently given quiet joy to him during the first years of their marriage.

“Phil,” she exclaimed with quick solicitude, “what is it? Have you been ill? You look strange, so different, hasn’t Molly been looking after you, or” — a little of the old hardness came across her face — “is it business?” She had grown to hate that last word, and she said it now unwillingly.

He forced a grin that did all it could to appear cheerful. Poor little beggar! But the sooner it was over, the better. The sale of Oakwood was to take place in less than a week now; and there would be many things that she would want to arrange. She had never been a coward or a weakling. Dinner would not be served for another hour, at least. It was better for her to know, he assured himself, and there would be a certain relief in confiding in her after so many months of complete holding back of the news of his troubles.

“Yes, there’s a lot to tell you, Letty,” he said rather abruptly, after he had kissed her. “But come outside for a while. This room is stifling with all these flowers.”

Her face looked pale and puzzled as she followed him out into the big garden, where well-tended spring flowers were all riotously abloom amongst shrubs and trees whose shadows were lengthening slowly across the lawn. Graham walked with his two hands clenched behind his back, his fighting chin set, his eyes dark and grim in the lean tan of his face. How he hated it all! What a detestable thing it was to have let her rise so high only to send her down again to a level very little higher than it had been when she had married him. Yet, he convinced himself again, she was no coward. And he told her.

They had seated themselves on a rustic seat that had been built around the fat trunk of an immense flowering pittosporum that had been on the land when it was bought. The tree was in full bloom, and the scent of its creamy flowers seemed to grow sweeter and heavier with the gradual deepening of the dusk. Letty sat beside him in her smartly-cut, golden-colored frock, looking up into his face as she waited for him to speak. And when he had told her, she sat quite silently, her smooth brown head lowered over hands clenched rather closely in her lap.

Graham waited wretchedly for some remark from her, and looking presently at her lowered face, saw two tears fall slowly on to her hands. He had a sudden passionate desire to take her still, slight body into his arms to kiss away her tears as he had so often done in the old happy days but the barrier that had grown up between them with slow but insidious sureness during the last few years still seemed to stand formidably, and made such an impulsive act impossible.

She sat quite motionless for fully a minute; then the floodgates of her tears seemed to break away from her control. She covered her face with her hands, and leaned her head against the friendly trunk of the tree, crying in her quiet, silent way.

The barrier forgotten, Graham took her in his arms.

“I’m sorry, Letty,” he said desperately. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am to bring you home to this.

Her brown head burrowed a little closer against his shoulder for just a fleeting moment; then she looked up at him.

“Phil,” she said, with the half-mischievous, wholly sweet smile of the old Letty bright in her eyes, “don’t you know that people often cry for joy? I — I’m crying for joy. I suppose it’s quite ridiculous — but there it is!”

She laughed softly into his puzzled face and continued: —

“Do you think for one moment that I’ll mind leaving Oakwood, where we’ve never been really happy, or that I’ll regret going back to Hollybush where we were always happy? Oh, Phil, Phil!” – she caught with both her hands at the lapels of his coat, and looked up at him with wistful eyes, “Don’t you see? The battling together might bring happiness again. I’ve missed it so – I’ve missed it so terribly!”

He stared at her for a moment, speechlessly. “You mean,” he said slowly, then, “that you won’t mind going back again — that you won’t mind losing all that money, success, have meant? Is that what you mean, Letty? . . . I don’t quite understand.”

She gave another soft laugh. “No; perhaps a man could not properly understand; but I know this, Phil, that you and I will be far happier, battling together at Hollybush once more, than we have ever been during all the prosperous times at Oakwood. And, when you get on again, as I am sure you will, we must try to benefit by our knowledge of the many foolish things that we allowed to creep in and spoil our happiness.”

“But Hollybush,” he said, weakly. “It was sold — long ago.”

“Yes, to me,” she replied coolly. “You see, you were always so generous with money, Phil. I found that I couldn’t bear anyone else to really own that little old home. I bought it through an agent who arranged to let it only to people who would always look after it beautifully for me. We’ll go back to it; and Phil, Phil, dear,” she continued, a little breathlessly; “there is someone else who wants to share it with us — the funniest little snub-nosed, curly-fingered son that ever —”

It was several seconds before he could fully realise what she was trying to say, and then he caught at her shoulders, staring down into her tear-filled eyes.

“A son — whose son?” he demanded sharply.

“Ours, Phil” she replied quietly. “You see, I was not quite happy here, and I thought I might be a worry to you with all your important contracts ahead; so I decided to go up to Edith. He, Phil Junior, is waiting inside for us. I did try so hard to keep him awake, but he refused. He was greedy. He had too much tea, and he —”

But Graham, with a sudden uncontrollable sob, took her in his arms so suddenly, and held her so tightly, that further speech was impossible.

A few minutes later they were standing beside the cot that Molly had managed to smuggle into the house. Letty drew back the dainty bed-clothes to give her husband a clearer view of a tiny puckered face. “Phil,” she said softly; “don’t you think that what has been given is so much more precious than what has been taken away?” But Graham could not speak. His arms just tightened about her shoulder as he stood looking down at his son.


Family Notices,  The Argus, 29 October 1949, p. 9, accessed 16 March 2024

Alice C. Tomholt, in, accessed 17 March 2024. (Limited free access is available.)

Alice C. Tomholt, “The uses of adversity“, in The Weekly Times, 1 March 1924, accessed 24 February 2024

Other sources are linked in the article.


Whispering Gums, aka Sue T, majored in English Literature, before completing her Graduate Diploma in Librarianship, but she spent the majority of her career as an audio-visual archivist. Taking early retirement, she engaged actively in Wikipedia, writing and editing articles about Australian women writers, before turning to litblogging in 2009. Australian women writers have been her main reading interest since the 1980s.